Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Remembering 1600 years of martyrdom in Iraq

Starting today, Christians in Iraq are beginning a week of celebrations to mark 1600 years since the massacre of hundreds of Christians for their faith in 409 A.D. Among them was a widow named Miskenta. Here is her story:

Miskenta lived during the fourth century in the city of Mosul, in modern day Iraq. During that time, King Yazdajard, swore that he would eradicate Christianity from his Persian kingdom, and for forty years he systematically slaughtered over twelve thousand Christians and forced any survivors to flee the country for their lives. The King’s barbarism did not stop there; he even had his own daughter killed when he found that she had converted to Christianity. He also ordered all the captains of his armies to search for and kill any Christians they found whether it was man, woman, or child.

Captain Tahmazjard, on hearing the king’s decree, made his way from Keirkuk, to Duhok, and on to Mosul with his army to uproot the Christians. When the army finally neared Mosul, news spread of their arrival and the Christians were warned to leave the city if they wanted to live. Meanwhile, Miskenta was baking bread for her two young sons when news of the armies approach reached her. However, instead of taking her children and fleeing the city, she courageously left her home, carried her sons on her shoulders, and went looking for the army of Tahmazjard in the suburbs of Mosul. Finally, she was stopped by a group of soldiers who asked her, “Where are you going?” Miskenta responded, “I am looking for the people who are killing Christians because I wish to be martyred.” Aghast, the soldiers brought Miskenta with her children to Tahmazjard who also asked her what she was doing. The holy Miskenta replied, “I wish to be martyred. I have the crown of glory prepared for me by Him who loves human kind. I am to be killed because of Him as a martyr.”

The captain, on hearing this said to her, “Woman, you are out of your mind. But if you worship fire, I will spare you and your children; otherwise, you shall all be killed.” To this threat Miskenta cried, “My Lord is the creator of darkness and light and you are asking me to worship a creature? I would rather die than forsake Him so shamefully.”

When it became clear that Miskenta would not give into their threats and promises, they had her two sons killed before her eyes. As she watched her precious children die, she encouraged them saying, “My sons, go ahead of me to heaven where Jesus is waiting for you.” Then, the soldiers killed Miskenta and burned their bodies.

When the Christians of Mosul heard of what had happened, they came and took what was left of Miskenta and her children’s remains and had them buried in Mosul. A church in her name now stands on where her remains are believed to be. On seeing the bravery of this holy woman and her children, Tahmazjard, the man who had ordered their death, converted to Christianity two days after their death. Later, he too was martyred for his faith and his body was taken to Keirkuk where the people in that region still honor him to this day.

Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.- Hebrews 13:7b (ESV)

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